Birds, reptiles perish when controversial wildlife refuge catche - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Birds, reptiles perish when controversial wildlife refuge catches fire

The building suffered heavy damage (Source: AIR 3, WAVE 3 News) The building suffered heavy damage (Source: AIR 3, WAVE 3 News)
Flames and smoke had engulfed a maintenance and shelter building when crews arrived. (Source: AIR 3, WAVE 3 News) Flames and smoke had engulfed a maintenance and shelter building when crews arrived. (Source: AIR 3, WAVE 3 News)
(Source: AIR 3, WAVE 3 News) (Source: AIR 3, WAVE 3 News)
(Source: WAVE 3 News viewer) (Source: WAVE 3 News viewer)
Tim Stark on Nov. 19, 2015 (Source: WAVE 3 News) Tim Stark on Nov. 19, 2015 (Source: WAVE 3 News)

CHARLESTOWN, IN (WAVE) - Two months ago, Tim Stark was battling animal activists and federal agriculture inspectors regarding the tigers he keeps at the Wildlife In Need sanctuary off of Jack Teeple Road.

"Now do these look like abused animals?" Stark asked WAVE 3 News on Nov. 19, 2015 as white tigers climbed over him. "Do they look unhealthy in any way, shape or form?"

Tuesday, fire proved a far more formidable foe.

"When I come down through here, there was smoke everywhere," Stark said. "It was engulfed in flames and done."

Stark said 41 animals, mostly birds and reptiles died. The tigers and other large cats were not near the burning barn, Stark said.

"It's the ones you lose. All the years you put in with them. Then you lose them over something like that," he said.

Stark was not home when the fire started. He got a call from one of his employees and rushed back. He ran into the burning barn and rescued a handful of animals including three wolves.

[RELATED STORY: Wildlife in Need owner fighting mad after being accused of abuse]

Flames and smoke had engulfed a maintenance and shelter building when crews arrived in early afternoon, Charlestown Assistant Fire Chief Andre' Heal confirmed. He said the structure is roughly 40 by 60 feet.

"To add, the extra stress of having exotic animals really makes a difference," Heal said. "We watch each other's backs that much closer. That was our main priority was to allow the agency here to secure the animals that were involved.”

Fire crews suffered no close encounters with wild beasts, but weather and road conditions compelled them to bring in tanker trucks to supply enough water for firefighting.

"We needed about an hour and a half to contain it," Heal said. "All the animals are accounted for."

The center updated the public on its Facebook page.

"There was never any security risk or concern," the post read. "While we have suffered extensive damage, we are grateful for the quick actions of our on-site crew, emergency preparedness plan and our owner's brave efforts to make sure all animals were secured at all times."  

"As of right now, it’s up to the wildlife refuge, what they’re gonna do," Heal said. "Either transport our how they’re going to store those animals safely."

Investigators have not determined how the fire started, Heal said. Fire crews remained on scene until shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday evening to ensure that hot spots would not rekindle.

Copyright 2016 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.

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